The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

WASHINGTON — Can you be a tough liberal who also knows how to work with the other side? Can you be unwavering in trying to lift the wages of the low-paid, bring health coverage to the uninsured, equalize educational opportunities and protect the environment — and still compromise enough to get all these things done?

These words could be about the late Edward M. Kennedy. But they also describe Rep. George Miller (D-CA), who announced his retirement this week. If the House has a Ted Kennedy, he’s it.

Characteristically, Miller did not signal his impending departure with some whining, nostalgic proclamation pining for a lost Golden Age of civility. He loves a lively legislative scrap and is in a robustly good mood about the long-term possibilities of progressive politics. Congress, he insists, could still get around to increasing the minimum wage, extending unemployment benefits, reforming immigration and expanding pre-kindergarten programs. And far from running away from the Affordable Care Act, Miller sees it as one of the crowning achievements of his time in Congress.

Miller, 68, was first elected to Congress in 1974 as part of the reformist Democratic class swept in by a reaction to Richard Nixon’s scandals. He’s one of only two continuously serving “Watergate babies” left in the House, though this 6-foot-3 bear of a man laughs that this is “not my preferred title.”

Miller hails from a time when liberals didn’t apologize for trying to make the country fairer and notes that he won his first race on the basis of only two promises: “to end the Vietnam War and to enact single-payer health care.” He thus sees Obamacare as a giant step, “the biggest gift to economic security for families since Social Security.”

But if Miller does not whine, he’s a realist about how much has changed during his four decades in Congress. He reveres Kennedy and worked closely with him, along with Rep. John Boehner, former Republican Sen. Judd Gregg and President George W. Bush, to pass the No Child Left Behind Act. Yet Miller observed that if Kennedy came back to life, he “would have a hard time recognizing this legislative process.”

Like Kennedy, Miller is an unabashed champion of the labor movement. “You can chart the decline of the wage base and middle-class family incomes with the decline of unions,” he told me on Wednesday. “It doesn’t mean the unions were always right, but it does mean they were very effective on behalf of the middle class.”

Yet he and Kennedy helped craft an education bill not entirely to the teachers unions’ liking because they saw a liberal principle at stake in the need to raise the performance of low-income and minority children. Two liberals and a group of conservatives could agree on this: “Let’s find out what we’re getting for the dollars we’re spending.”

Miller offers an astringent analysis of what is keeping Republicans, including Boehner, now the House Speaker, from engaging in this sort of give-and-take today. Above all, he highlights the role of “dark money” in politics — “and it really is dark.”

“Unlimited, anonymous money,” he says, is now regularly deployed from the right against any Republican with the nerve to sit down with Democrats. “There are forces in the Republican Party that won’t let you walk into the room.” Dark money threatens incumbents with primaries spearheaded by Tea Party activists increasingly uneasy with social and demographic changes in the country.

Abetting obstruction, he says, is the abuse of the filibuster in the Senate. This has turned Minority Leader Mitch McConnell into “the choreographer” of President Obama’s time in office as long delays on a few bills prevent action on others.

For all that, Miller is confident about the future because he sees conservatives as having to resort to voter suppression efforts and procedural shenanigans to block a strong national tide in favor of economic justice. Support for the minimum wage is high, he says, because so many Americans are tired of companies counting on government subsidies to the poor to make up for low pay.

As for those who challenge the effectiveness of pre-K programs, Miller provides a ready response: “Why is it that rich people struggle and fight and stand in line to get their children into the best early learning programs they can?” Why, indeed?

Congress could use more liberals who can brawl and negotiate at the same time. Perhaps Miller will now open a school for progressive legislators. He can name it after Ted Kennedy.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is ejdionne@washpost.com. Twitter: @EJDionne

Photo: President Barack Obama meets with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and House Education and Labor Committee Chair Rep. George Miller, in the Oval Office (Official White House Photo/Pete Souza)

Advertising

Start your day with National Memo Newsletter

Know first.

The opinions that matter. Delivered to your inbox every morning

Jessica Cisneros

It’s a race that has some Democratic voters scratching their heads: a young, progressive primary challenger versus a pro-life, conservative Democrat who received an A-rating from the NRA. The primary race between one of the most conservative Democrats in the House, Representative Henry Cuellar, and Jessica Cisneros has become a lightning rod within the Democratic Party.

Cuellar declared victory, but as of Wednesday morning, major media outlets have said the race is too close to call. He is just a couple hundred votes ahead of his Cisneros in Texas' 28th Congressional District primary. When neither candidate won a majority in the March 1 primary, the two highest vote-getters faced each other in Tuesday's run-off election.

Keep reading... Show less

School shooting in Uvalde, Texas

Youtube Screenshot

Fox News responded to the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, by interviewing experts who pushed controversial, counterproductive models to reduce gun violence in schools. One of these experts advocated for introducing more weapons into schools through arming teachers and staff, a policy firmly rejected by teachers unions and researchers. Another called for increased active shooter response trainings-- a service his company provides -- which have also been found to be ineffective at preventing casualties.

As news out of Uvalde was still developing, Fox News’ Jesse Watters invited Laura Carno -- the executive director of FASTER Colorado, which advocates for arming school staff -- on his show, where she compared arming teachers and other school personnel to arming pilots. “We all feel really comfortable with the armed pilot program, where some pilots are armed on some flights,” Carno said. “We don't know which ones, and we feel pretty good about that. It's a very similar kind of thing to armed school staff programs.”

Keep reading... Show less
{{ post.roar_specific_data.api_data.analytics }}